Penang, Malaysia is an architectural crossroads containing a jumble of buildings from an array of different time periods and cultures. The island, located just over 300 km north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, contains architectural influences from China, India, Great Britain and Thailand, to name just a few. George Town, which is the capital of the state of Penang, is home to a majority of the area's architectural attractions. Walking through its streets, you'll be immersed in a variety of architectural styles that evoke both tradition and push the boundaries of creativity.
A George Town Overview
Like many of the world's George Towns, the one in Penang contains numerous remnants of British colonialism, but that's only part of what makes this area of Penang so interesting. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to many structures that have been influenced by the area's cultural richness. In the center of it all is Little India, with its colorful buildings and Hindu temples. Pinang Peranakan Mansion, with its iron gates, tall shuttered windows and golden wood door, and the bright blue Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion are just a short walk away from the center of George Town. You will also find Kapitan Keling Mosque, a showcase for domes and towers influenced by Gothic, Roman and Moorish design. Indeed, there are architectural wonders around just about every corner of George Town.
The British are Coming
Throughout Penang there are many examples of British colonial architecture. The Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, completed in 1902, was built to commemorate Queen Victoria. It is 60 feet tall, one foot for each year of her reign. City Hall, with its stark white coloring and elaborate entrance, is a fine example as well. Also painted in the colonial white, St. George's Church is the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia, having been built in 1818. Fort Cornwallis, the largest intact fort in Malaysia, is also a key relic of the age of colonialism. Though the fort was originally intended to defend against invasion, it never saw a battle. Inside the fort, you will also find a chapel built in 1799 that was one of the first roofed structures in Penang.
Increase Your Karma at the Buddhist Temples
Penang is a wonderful place to see a variety of Buddhist temples influenced by various cultures. Kek Lok Si Temple, also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss, has a seven story pagoda. The complex is especially stunning at night when it is lit up in red and gold. Ban Ka Lan Snake Temple, of traditional southern Chinese design, is still home to several vipers that you can see if you visit. The entry arch is the chief draw at Tow Boo Kong Temple. Wat Chayamangkalaram is a Thai Buddhist temple with intricate golden details, colorful dragon statues in the courtyard and a 180-foot reclining Buddha statue, one of the largest in the world.
Step Back in Time at Chew Jetty
Located adjacent to Penang Harbor, Chew Jetty was originally built by poor Chinese immigrants from the southern Chinese province of Fujian. These wooden houses built on stilts line the harbor and are connected by wooden walkways and alleys with direct access to rowboats that are still used today. The houses are still inhabited but have been modernized with electricity and other updated conveniences. George Town has sprung up around the borders of Chew Jetty, but visiting this area takes you far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the city to give you a sense of a bygone era.
Little India Comes Alive
A visit to see Penang's architectural heritage would not be complete without taking in the many Hindu temples scattered around George Town. Sri Mariamman, the oldest Hindu temple on the island, is located right in the heart of Little India and features 38 intricate sculptures that dot the exterior. Nattukkottai Chettiar, the largest of the city's Hindu temples, provides the central location for the Thaipusam festival held every year. Right across the street you will find the Sri Meenakshi Sundraeswar Temple. Like Sri Mariamman, this complex is constructed in the Dravidian -- or pyramid-like -- style. Finally, the Waterfall Hill Temple rewards visitors with sprawling hilltop vistas. The interior, with its carved pillars and illuminated chandeliers, is just as stunning as the exterior.
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